Sensible self-driving cars go to the extremes of the Arctic Circle

27 Jun 2022

A Toyota Proace using Sensible 4 autonomous driving software in Finland. Image: Sensible 4

Two Toyota Proace vehicles using Sensible 4 self-driving software will be tested on a 3.6km route in dramatically changing weather conditions.

A long-term self-driving service has been launched north of the Arctic Circle to put an all-weather autonomous driving system to the test, while providing a transport link to a local hospital.

The pilot project in Norway will see two electric Toyota Proace vehicles, equipped with autonomous driving software, operate a 3.6km route in the town of Bodø.

Bodø has a subpolar climate with challenging weather conditions that change dramatically throughout the year, with an annual mix of rain, wind, snow, daylight hours and varying temperature.

“Bodø is known for experiencing four seasons in one day, it’s really exciting to see how the technology behind the autonomous shuttles will work in such a challenging climate,” said Smarter Transport Bodø project manager Rune Eiterjord.

Eiterjord added that if the self-driving vehicles can operate in Bodø, they will be able to work “anywhere in the world”.

The vehicles will operate autonomously at speeds of 30kph with eight bus stops between the local harbour and hospital. There will be a safety driver on board to take over operations if necessary, in keeping with Norwegian law.

The project is a collaboration between Mobility Forus, Boreal, Nordland County Municipality, Bodø Municipality and Finnish self-driving tech company Sensible 4.

Sensible 4 CEO Harri Santamala said the service will help the company demonstrate how its technology performs in “seriously bad weather that is often highly unpredictable”.

“Moreover, we’re delighted to be able to provide a key service that creates an important public transport link for the local community in Bodø, where driver shortage remains a key challenge that the city is trying to overcome through their adoption of autonomous mobility technology,” Santamala said.

Earlier this year, Sensible 4 completed a similar autonomous driving project in Finland, which saw its vehicles encounter extreme weather conditions such as temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius, heavy snowfalls and slippery roads.

The autonomous transport service in Bodø is set to initially operate from June to the new year, in order to catch the worst of the Nordic weather season.

Self-driving cars have seen advancements in leaps and bounds in recent years. In April, the UK revealed planned changes to its highway code to pave the way for fully self-driving cars to hit the roads as soon as the second half of this year.

Earlier this month, self-driving car business Cruise became the first to secure approval to operate a commercial taxi service using driverless cars in California.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic